It’s with the utmost thanks that The Sanctuary is now able to bring, monthly, a blog from one of it’s clients. These represent women who will change attitudes, through their honest and brave stories of how it once was, and how it now is. I would love to hear from any one who could ever argue that being free of the ugly juice could ever be lame or boring!!

Thank you to Claire, for this, the first of the series.

Claire’s Story

In order to understand where I am now, I need to convey where I was and perhaps why. I am a 43 (very nearly 44) year old British born expat who left Blighys shores near on 17 years ago. It was by pure accident that a month long visit to see my father in the war torn Balkans turned into a new career path, working with humanitarian aid agencies. It felt worthwhile, exciting and fulfilling. At that time I didn’t have a drink problem. I met my husband, had two kids and stop working. This is when the trouble ensued, and 10 years later led me to Sarah’s door.  What appeared to be a charmed expat life was in reality a golden prison in which I would sit and booze….and booze. I boozed my way around Africa, South East Asia and even the Middle East. I have tried to pin point exactly when the girly expat “oh let’s have a cold glass …it is toddler club after all!” became swigging from Martini bottles at 9 in the morning.   I often thought that maybe it’s because as expats we sometimes feel that we can live outside the normally perceived rules, and that drinking any time of the day was somehow “free” and “rebellious”.  Whereas, I can look back with fond memories of downing a grubby dirt smeared glass of slivovitz with Serbian refugees in a cow shed at dawn to keep warm! , over the 10 years that followed, Alcohol insidiously took its grip on me. Add to the mix complicated feelings and fears of letting go of my career, and becoming a “dependent” (which I loathe as a term for family members), led me into what can only be described as the drunken wilderness. I knew I had an issue but couldn’t get out of the mess. I read endless self-help books and undertook the “do you have a drinking problem tests” on google….er yes, I bloody do.  I tried online self-help, which I believe works for many, but not for me.

At the end of it all I was drinking a mind boggling 150 units a week. My life was consumed by booze. I was in this crazy charade of getting the kids to school, going back to bed with “flu”, getting up, feeling deeply resentful of everyone, (particularly my husband), sourcing booze to restock the whisky bottles I had decimated so my husband wouldn’t notice, having a couple of large glasses before tackling homework time, knocking it back as I prepared supper…..then tuning out completely, going to bed at the same time as the kids, waking up at 3 nervous, sweating and anxious. It was a depressing nightmare and I felt very alone, hugely misunderstood and isolated. I dare say I was also very self-consumed.

I was very lucky to not only find Sarah but that quite unbelievably I wasn’t physically dependent on booze, but oh my, I was completely emotionally dependent. COMPLETELY.   So, 4 months down the road of ditching the booze, I find myself in a different situation.  Health wise, my kidneys no longer ache, my reflux has “miraculously” disappeared, my skin has improved, my eyes have a little sparkle again and I don’t wince so much when I look in the mirror.  Other ways in which my life have changed are subtle, but the most meaningful to me. Perhaps the most significant area has been the change in my relationship with my husband and kids. Our daily family life has not changed , same house, same school, same job etc but after the initial period of not drinking (which did feel like scratching nails down a chalk board because I SO WANTED A DRINK), I find myself now a great deal less irritated and willing to engage with them all. Life trundles along much more smoothly without the emotional booze fuelled daily dramas, and I feel generally a great deal less perplexed by family life.  My husband now talks to me about many things that I had wished for years that he would talk to me about, and in many ways it feels like we are getting to know each other again. Not long back he actually asked me not to drink again and only last week said that he really prefers the booze free me. That to me means he actually likes me, the real me!. I have figured out that I am indeed not wonder women, and nor did anyone wish me to be.  That was a self-imposed standard that also fuelled my boozing. The house will get dirty, it’s ok to eat on our laps in front of the TV sometimes and it’s ok to take time for myself. The kids will still spill juice endlessly, dump wet towels on the floor and walk horse manure through the house, but the world will not come crashing down around me ,and it is certainly not improved by alcohol.    I am also learning to quieten the little OCD monster that lurks inside who was also fond of a tipple.

So how can we address the stigma of giving up the booze? In all honesty, I do feel pretty vulnerable writing this now, but I also feel strongly that unless more women actually let others know that they have an issue with alcohol and how bloody marvellous it is when you give it up, nothing will change. I have started talking to a few women I know about ditching the booze, and I hope that my meagre story will make a difference.  I honesty regret that I didn’t get myself together years ago and stop drinking, but alas, I didn’t.  I now notice, and am aware of, how wine has become part of the language of our “sisterhood”. It’s a currency that we can exchange and makes us somehow “ok” with each other. I hear the “ha ha, come on lets open a bottle……Facebook full of friends raising glasses of bubbly”. I am no longer a member of that club and feel slightly lonely, but in reality, I never was one to toe the line. I would hate to appear sanctimonious but I do feel that I have a new life , and more importantly a future, and that I can see beyond next week.    As I say to my eldest daughter when she has been teased at school, who wants to be like everyone else anyway? Be yourself, everyone else it taken. Surely living a life that is in the raw is a life worth living? I think so. With Sarah’s words echoing in my ears, what’s the worst that can happen? Surely nothing but freedom.

Author: Sarah Turner

Founder of the Harrogate Sanctuary.